Brenda Allen, the woman credited with “bringing down Dr. Frederick Field” took the stand Friday as the last witness in the plaintiff’s civil trial against Mid-Columbia Medical Center.
The hospital began its defense today, Oct. 15, in the lawsuit that began with jury selection Oct. 1 and was scheduled to conclude by Friday. However, attorneys for both sides in the multimillion lawsuit now expect the legal proceedings to extend into next week.
It was not Allen’s recorded phone call in which Field, an anesthesiologist, admitted to molesting her following a surgery on Sept. 24, 2007, that drew the attention of attorneys on Oct. 11. Her secret taping of a conversation with two hospital administrators that occurred almost four years later drew the most legal scrutiny.
MCMC’s attorney told the court Tuesday that it had not received the Allen recording until the night before she testified and would seek sanctions because their case was prejudiced by late information.
Allen said her motivation for hiding a tape recorder in her clothing at the May 10, 2011, meeting had been to replay the discussion later for her husband. He had been unable to get away from work for the conference with Duane Francis, MCMC’s chief executive officer, and Diane Storby, vice-president of operations.
“I had a fear of retribution. Coming forward like this, I felt my job was at stake, I felt my reputation was at stake,” said Allen, who still works as an emergency room nurse at the hospital.
“Who was going to believe me when Fred was a doctor?”
Robert Keating, a Portland attorney defending MCMC, pointed out that Francis can be heard on the tape encouraging Allen to file a complaint with authorities. In fact, he said it was Francis who alerted The Dalles Police Capt. Ed Goodman that Allen might be reporting sexual abuse.
“We’ll be with you every step of the way,” Francis said to Allen in the recording.
He said her allegations, if true, pointed toward “reprehensible and disgusting” behavior on the part of the anesthesiologist. However, until the charges were substantiated, Francis said he had to be fair to both Allen and Field in the way the matter was dealt with.
“There will be no attempt by this organization to excuse [Field’s behavior] this in any way, shape or form,” he said in the recording.
Gregory Kafoury, a Portland attorney representing two of the three women involved in the trial, gave a different interpretation of Francis’ comments. Despite the repeated assurance, Kafoury said Francis told Allen that he would not initiate a criminal investigation of Field due to the potential for a defamation of character lawsuit.
Instead, Francis said steps would be taken to make sure the anesthesiologist was not left alone with patients during and after a surgery.
“My advice to you is: ‘Do what makes you feel good about yourself,’” said Francis to Allen. “I applaud you and your bravery and, again, we’re here to support you in any way we can.”
Allen told jurors that, after Francis raised the issue of defamation, she became worried about being targeted by a lawsuit if she reported Field’s abuse.
Francis offered during the meeting to set up a confidential meeting between Allen and Goodman where she could consider the matter further. He also said she could discuss the issue of defamation with the hospital’s attorney if she wanted more information.
“In essence, when he was talking to me, I didn’t feel like he was going to do anything,” said Allen about her decision to proceed with the investigation.
“I just felt in my heart of hearts that something had to be done or nothing would be done.”
She said it had taken almost four years to come forward, in large part, due to a fear that she would lose her job. She claimed that, after reporting Field’s abuse, she had been harassed by co-workers and subjected to disciplinary action that she believed was retaliatory in nature.
That line of conversation was cut short by an objection from Keating, who gained agreement from Judge Paul Crowley that the issue was “off topic” for the trial.
Jurors are being asked to weigh what the hospital knew and when they knew it before deciding whether to award $18 million in compensatory and punitive damages to Willie Gmeinder, Erin Vance and Sharon Hobbs.
Kafoury and McDougal represent Gmeinder and Vance, and Hobbs is the client of attorney Jan Wyers of Hood River.
Once Allen began working with Police Det. Sgt. Dan Nelson, Kafoury said Storby attempted in documented statements to discredit her as a victim. The administrator questions the timeline for the incident given by Allen, who admitted upfront that she could not remember the exact date of her seventh surgery. Storby also pointed out to Nelson that drugs used for Allen’s sedation had been known to cause sexual hallucinations that are not based in reality.
“When you talked to Mr. Francis and Ms. Storby did they mention a similar complaint that had taken place three months earlier? Or three years earlier? Or that Fred Field had recently admitted to some type of impropriety during his residency?” asked Kafoury of Allen, who replied “No” to each question.
Although Francis had assured Allen that “nothing will be swept under the rug,” Kafoury told jurors that information about past problems with Field was not readily passed on to investigators.
He said Francis and Storby had made only vague and dismissive references to Nelson about earlier complaints by patients and staff about Field’s behavior. Documentation on these incidents was not provided to authorities until months after the anesthesiologist’s arrest.
Twelve women became part of the criminal case against Field who worked at MCMC for five years. He was taken into custody shortly after the phone call took place with Allen on July 28, 2011. He pleaded guilty in September 2012 to one count of rape and 11 counts of sexual abuse and was sentenced to 23 years in prison.
For years after being abused by Field, Allen said the doctor visited the emergency room where she worked and sometimes asked probing questions, as if seeking to learn what she remembered about the molestation. She said Field made comments about “being able to do anything he wanted with medicine,” which further intimidated her.
She had informed Dr. David Mack in 2008 that she did not want to have Field for her anesthesiologist during an eighth surgery. However, she did not provide details about what had happened and he did not report her complaint for that reason.
“How had it felt to keep this a secret?” asked Kafoury.
“It felt horrible,” said Allen. “It just kept coming back, coming back, and I felt powerless.”
She sought counseling to deal with the memories of abuse and had finally decided to come forward at the urging of her husband and a doctor from MCMC that he had confided in.
In the phone call recorded by Oregon State Police Det. Lori Rosebraugh, Field admitted to touching Allen sexually but blamed her for initiating the contact. He claimed she had first touched his leg and that the drugs used to sedate her had been known to lower inhibitions and cause arousal.
Field compared Allen’s state of mind to someone who was “drunk,” which led her to protest that she had been sedated and not in control of the situation. She then threatened to tell her husband, which led Field to say: “It’s like a Christmas party kind of thing; you feel guilty but don’t let it ruin your life. I would not like to lose my job for 30 seconds of stupidity.”
Once Allen learned how Francis and Storby had handled the situation, she reported feeling “abused, used and full of mistrust.” She told jurors it had been shocking to find out that Francis had told investigators it was “improbable on a huge scale” that anything inappropriate had happened with Field. He said multiple people were in and around the operating and recovery rooms so it would have been almost impossible for abusive actions not to be detected.
Allen said Francis had given her the impression that he believed her at their initial meeting, which made his later comments more devastating.
“I felt everyone at MCMC had lied to me,” she said.